Month in Review: November 2014

Popular Posts in November

Fairy Tale Blogathan: Sabrina (1995)

Matinee Podcast: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Shame List #25: The Shining (1980)

Not a Review: Interstellar (2014)

AEOS Review: Whiplash (2014)

New Movies I Saw in Theaters

Big Hero 6

Birdman
Review coming soon!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Review coming soon!

Interstellar

Theory of Everything
Review coming soon!

Whiplash

Best Movie [I saw in theaters] This Month

Whiplash

While Whiplash probably made me more uncomfortable in a movie theater than what I’m accustomed to, I cannot help but praise this film as one of the best of the year. It’s a film I’d like to add to my collection, even if I watch it only once every couple of years. The performances do not carry, but rather complement a film that gives us great music, an interesting perspective on performance arts, and a great story to tell.

Worst Movie [I saw in theaters] This Month

 Theory of Everything

Now technically I saw Theory of Everything early this month, but since the film was released in November, and I’m a bit behind in posting November’s month in review, I thought it was safe to add to this month. Theory of Everything isn’t so much a bad film as it’s more of a “been here, done that” misdemeanor in film. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film, or that I think it’s a bad film. I don’t. It just happens to come in last place for the new films I saw in theaters over the month of November.

Looking Forward to December

It is a little crazy to think we are nearing the end of 2014 this quickly. I, for one, have had an incredible 2014, having returned to blogging this July after a long year and a half hiatus. But I’ll save that talk for future posts. December boasts a LOT of big films, similarly to November. I doubt I’ll catch all, much less most of these films this month. But hey, that’s what January is for, right?

Because there are so many films I’m itching to see this month, I’m going to limit this list to my top five I’m most excited for.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (12/16)

I have so much love for the Lord of the Rings universe Peter Jackson created on-screen. While I have not been a fan of the first two The Hobbit offerings, I am still excited for this finale. We really haven’t gotten to see much of the actual material from the book unfold on screen, so I’m looking forward to what Mr. Jackson has in store for us.

Into the Woods (12/25)

I’ve been anticipating Into the Woods since a teaser first arrived online. Now while I haven’t seen the musical production of this, I think the premise is interesting, and I’m very excited to see so many of the actors and actresses I love grace the screen in a musical. My sister and I have established a tradition over the past several years to see a movie in theaters Christmas night. Since I met my hubby Matt in 2012, he has come along, making it that much more fun. Into the Woods is the movie I hope to see this Christmas.

Unbroken (12/25)

I know way less about Unbroken than I’d like, but I’ve read raving reviews for the book it is based on. I’ve also researched how Angelina Jolie came into contact with the man whose story is Unbroken, so I’m curious to see how Jolie’s latest return to the director’s chair will pan out. This movie promises inspiration for a story that looks devastating. It reminds me a little bit of 12 Years a Slave (2013) in the trailer.

Big Eyes (12/25)

I haven’t always been a huge fan of Amy Adams. Sometimes I love her, and other times I don’t care for her roles. But Big Eyes attracts me even more given that Tim Burton is the director. While Burton always dabbles in the unusual, Big Eyes doesn’t seem to be his usual fare. And with Christoph Waltz, I can’t help but be curious about this unusually appealing film.

Selma (12/25)

Selma will be a limited-release film that I probably won’t get to see until January. That said, this movie looks incredible from the trailer, and it’s full of huge actors. I’ve been seeing trailers for this only within the past month, so my guess is that the push will be around Christmas/New Years into January. I really think this movie is going to be nominated for a lot of awards.

Since December is such a huge month for films, here is a list of other films released in December I’m still excited to see, even if I don’t get to them until January/February next year:

Wild (12/3)

Inherent Vice (12/12)

Annie (12/19)

American Sniper (12/25)

The Gambler (12/25)

A Most Violent Year (12/31)

It’s your turn now. What were the best and worst movies you saw in November? What movies are you anticipating in December? Please join the conversation below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

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The Boy Who Loved Batman — Up Close with Executive Producer Michael Uslan

Little did I know a few weeks ago that meeting Michael Uslan, executive producer of all batman films, that I would find some of the greatest inspiration to pursue my passion for film. After finding my way into the right building at Harper College, I paid the seven dollar fee, saving myself a few bucks by handing the teller my college student ID that I unfortunately still seem to resemble. I grabbed a seat in the front middle section, not knowing what to expect.

But this post isn’t about me, it’s about Mr. Uslan, the 8-year-old son of a stone mason, who, through his love of batman and comic books, latched himself onto one of the greatest film series to have hit screens.

Michael Uslan’s Story, As He Told It

Michael grew up loving comic books. He said by the time he graduated high school, there were over 30,000 comic books stacked up, sitting in the garage. He knew he loved comics, especially about Batman. I don’t think he knew entirely what he wanted to do with his life, but I will never forget how much he spoke of his parents supporting him in whatever endeavors he wanted to pursue. His brother and he watched as his dad would get up early to work hard every day, staying out late working oftentimes, both of them desiring to have that same drive to spend their lives being passionate about their work.

One day in college, Michael said he decided he wanted to pitch the idea of teaching a comic books class at the university. He needed a department to back him before he could make the pitch. After having accomplished this, he stood before a group of professors and deans gathered to hear this idea–that comic books could be considered art–and that Michael was capable and qualified to teach this class. He described himself as having long hair and wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. I can only imagine what the teachers must have thought of his appearance. About 2-3 minutes into his pitch, the head dean stopped him, telling him that he didn’t need to go any further. Whatever this silly idea was that Michael was pitching, the dean considered it irrelevant. Can you imagine taking a comics book class at college? At the time, that was unheard of. The dean dismissed Michael, telling him that he had read Superman comic books as a kid; they certainly weren’t art then. Why would they be now?

At this point in his story, Mr. Uslan slowed his story, looking at the audience. With a bit of frustration lingering in his voice, he said, “I wanted to walk right out. I wanted to turn around and leave. But I didn’t.”

Michael then respectfully (so I assume) asked the dean if he could ask him two questions. The dean hesitantly agreed. First, Michael asked, “Do you know the story of Moses?” When the dean replied yes, Michael then asked him if he could recall a summary of it for them. The dean then went on to tell the story of Moses, starting with how the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians, and that in order to save baby Moses’ life, that his mother placed him in a basket which she put in a river. There, an Egyptian family raised him as their own. Later, Moses grew up to be a leader to save the Israelites from the Egyptians.

After the dean’s summary, Michael then reminded the dean that he was knowledgeable on Superman, given that he had read the comics as a kid. He then asked the dean if he could recount the story of Superman. So the dean gave in again, telling how the planet Krypton was about to be destroyed, so his parents put him in a ship in order to save him, sending him to earth. There, a family found him and raised him as their own. As Superman grew older, he eventually became a leader and savior to the people.

As soon as the dean had reached that point, he stopped mid-sentence, telling Michael, “Fine. I get it. You can teach your comics book class.”

And that’s how Michael Uslan became the first professor to teach a comic books class.

But as he was walking away, happy to have successfully convinced the board of deans and professors to accept his proposal, he said he recalled words of wisdom from his mother: he ought to market himself. From there, he said he went home and called a news station. When he was finally able to get a reporter on the phone, he changed his tone. He was angry, and he started shouting phrases regarding America’s youth, and how news people should not have let things get to such a bad place. The reporter on the end was thoroughly confused. The reporter then asked what Michael was so upset about. Michael started again with lines like, “You really don’t care about taxpayers’ dollars do you? Do you have any idea what’s going on? Our kids in school should be getting a proper education!” When the reporter failed to follow where Michael was going with all this, Michael responded, “Did you know that the university is allowing students to be taught about comic books? I heard they just hired someone to teach them a comic books class! This is ridiculous!”

Mr. Uslan said it took three days following that phone conversation for that reporter to make it to the university to find out what was going on. And from there on, Mr. Uslan said that there were multiple reporters, camera men, even celebrities who would pop in and sit through one of his classes. He made it in a large article in multiple newspapers across the country and even in Europe. His phone was constantly ringing with newsreporters and job offers. And one day soon following his overnight fame, Michael received a called from Marvel, offering him a job in New York City.

For the first few years, Mr. Uslan didn’t say that he did anything all too significant at Marvel. Then one night, when he was just about to leave for the evening, he heard yelling and screaming. He walked over towards the sound and found one of the editor’s furious. Apparently the editor had a script assignment for the Shadow comic due the next day, and he could think of nothing to write about. Fortunately for that editor, Michael said he had an idea. After some pulling and tugging away and random ideas that came to mind, Michael had convinced the editor to let him write the script. Michael pulled an all-nighter, and handed in the script the next morning.

A few weeks later, one of the major writers at Marvel walked by Michael. He stopped Michael, saying that he had read his Shadow comic. He commented that it wasn’t bad. Michael was about to keep walking, but the writer stopped him again. This time, he asked him a question: “Would you be interested in writing Batman comics?”

Clearly, Michael’s answer was “yes.” At this point, Mr. Uslan transitioned his story, remarking that he reached a point in his life–and at an early stage–where he had achieved his dream. The big question lingering in his head was, “What now?”

Michael wasn’t able to answer that question for himself until the first Batman show premiered on TV. Mr. Uslan mentioned how excited he had been, with all the anticipation leading up to this. FinallyUnfortunately, Michael didn’t totally dig the silly, light-hearted, slap stick humor of the show. He wished Batman would be taken a little more seriously. He wanted to see that human, realistic side to Batman. After all, Batman really was just a human. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive bug. He wasn’t an alien sent to Earth to save all of humanity. He was a human, who just happened to have a lot of money and desire to help other people.

Mr. Uslan said it was that moment that he vowed to himself that somehow, some way, he would bring Batman to the big screen in a big way. But not just in a big way–he wanted the world to see the raw and humanistic side of Batman. He wanted the superhero who had influenced and inspired him as a child to influence and inspire other people in a way where they weren’t just laughing at him. So he set out to do just that.

To shorten this seemingly long story, I’ll cut the final part of this short. Mr. Uslan described how he went about buying the rights to Batman. He got married. He went to school again and became a lawyer for four years. He quit his job, moved to California, pitched the idea of a Batman movie to every studio and was turned down by every single one of them. It was another ten years until someone by the name of Tim Burton thought a lot of Michael’s idea.

And according to Mr. Uslan, the rest was history.

After the Story

Following his story, there was a short question and answer time. I was lucky enough to have caught his eye, having him answer my question. I asked him about breaking into the film business, specifically screenwriting. He gave short, but thoughtful advice that I truly appreciated.

When the Q/A time came to a close, I stood in line and bought his memoir, getting one of the last three copies there. I then had him sign it. The batman symbol he drew was awesome! As he was drawing, I talked to him, telling him a little bit about how I grew up not being allowed to watch movies. He was encouraging and kind, and strangely answered that Wes Craven grew up the same way. I really wonder about that now.

From the post, you can also see that I got a picture with him. I have yet to think or imagine another moment in my life when I was as inspired to go after my passion like Michael Uslan did. With no connections to people, he still got to where he wanted to be. He kept his promise to himself to do what he wanted to, or to at least try, try, and try again, knowing he gave everything within himself to his dream. It’s neat to think that his life somewhat mirrors that of batman’s–he fell so many times, but he fought his demons. Now he’s rising.

So if you have yet to see The Dark Knight Rises, look for Michael Uslan’s name in the credits. And when you do, think about how I got to meet him up and close and personal, and get to talk to him about achieving dreams. It’s people like Michael Uslan rather than actors or celebrities, that I look at and call successful, because it wasn’t a name or connection or physical appearance that got him to where he wanted to be. His drive and determination and desire to fulfill his dreams were what got him to where he is now. And possibly the coolest part about it all? He said people were looking into the film rights for his memoir. Keep a look out for that one, folks.

I couldn’t help but find it most appropriate to be posting about the executive producer of the Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises opening this weekend. I’ll be leaving to see the film in less than four hours.

I can’t wait.

Week of Favorites: Composers

In the past few years, I’ve really taken to collecting film scores when I can afford it. It’s amazing to think that I had an even MORE difficult time compiling a favorites list of film composers than I did for actors or actresses. When it comes down to it–and I hope if you haven’t read anything else I’ve written, that you read this–that picking favorite film composers for the average movie lover is something that really comes down to the thought, what do you like to listen to? For someone who grew up playing many instruments and being involved in music frequently, I still lack that intuitive knowledge that would say, This is a good soundtrack because of X reason. At the end of the day, these composers are on this list because I really favor one or multiple scores of theirs.

John Williams

I’m not ranking John Williams on this (even though it is just a FAVORITES LIST) because I don’t think he ought to be ranked. He’s composed some of the greatest scores of our time and is a household name today. He’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking a few notes and creating a memorable melody that is remixed decades later for film remakes. On Williams’s 80th birthday, I posted about him in more detail. You can check out that post here.

6. Daft Punk

Since it’s nearly impossible to find a normal picture of Daft Punk, please enjoy this light-up dance routine to one of the tracks from TRON: Legacy.

Again, I struggled having only five composers on my list. It’s ironic that Daft Punk even makes this list considering that they have scored the soundtrack for only one film. The clincher for me is that it is one of my favorite scores I have listened to on repeat constantly, and I can’t find any other scores even comparable: TRON: Legacy. For two years, the duo that makes up Daft Punk–Frenchman Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter–collaborated with Joseph Trapanese, an arranger and composer who lives in LA. The score is performed by an 85-piece orchestra that combines both electronic and orchestral sounds. Daft Punk has released other types of albums, yet I hope that more film scores are in their future.

5. Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman is really a darkhorse pick even in terms of favorite composers of mine, because I haven’t heard a whole lot by him. After learning that he’s actually partially composed several scores, such as being the music programmer for The Da Vinci Code, the music arranger for The Dark Knight, and contributing to the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, I consider Jackman to be more of an up and comer in the film composition industry. Jackman has worked under the strong direction of Hans Zimmer, who’s been referred to as Jackman’s mentor in the past. Jackman’s also helped write the score for Zimmer’s The Holiday, as well as the scores for the films Vantage Point and Monsters vs. Aliens. He’s recently started to head his own projects, the most memorable being his rich, intense score for last year’s X-Men: First Class. It was one of my favorite soundtrack scores of last year; you can read more about it in this previous post.

4. Nancy Wilson

To many, Nancy Wilson may be considered an odd choice given that she’s known more as a rock musician. According to her IMDB profile, Wilson has performed or written tracks for over 20 films. In terms of film composing, however, her number is quite a bit smaller: four films. Previously married to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, Wilson lended her film composing skills to several of his films, including Jerry Maguire, Almost FamousVanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown. I’m still convinced that Crowe went directly with Jonsi only for the score of We Bought a Zoo because he no longer has Wilson to collaborate with, but that’s just me speculating. Despite only composing for four films (some of which have only one or two tracks), Wilson still makes my favorites list because I’m a big fan of each of her tracks on each album. She mainly works with only acoustic guitar, and there’s a very earthy, deep feel to the sound. My recommendation is to check out her Elizabethtown score. I talk about it a little more in this post. It’s my favorite!

3. Hans Zimmer

This list would be incomplete without the addition of Hans Zimmer. He reminds me of the Peter Jackson of the film composition world because he’s so open and communicative with his fans. Zimmer has collaborated with other brilliant film composers, such as Klaus Badelt on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scores as well as James Newton Howard (one who barely missed this list!) on Christopher Nolan’s batman films. Zimmer has won multiple awards, although he’s won only one Academy Award in his time (crazy or what?!) for The Lion King in 1994. His award-winning (and nominated) film scores tend to be his most well-known, such as GladiatorThe Last Samurai, and Inception. His colleagues at DreamWorks, who Zimmer happens to be head of the music division there, include both legendary film composers John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, who composed the memorable, uplifting score for The Chronicles of Narnia films. Zimmer is also known for his collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, having joint-composed (if that can be a term) for Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises with Newton Howard and composing for the critically-acclaimed film, Inception. My current favorite film scores of Zimmer’s are for Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Inception.

2. Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman has a giant resume of film scores that I’ve never listened to, yet he makes it so high on this list because I’ve very much enjoyed the ones I have heard. He’s clearly at the top of his game right now composing for multiple films almost every year since 1980! Elfman is known for his collaboration with director Tim Burton, having composed for almost every one of Burton’s films. One of the most epic film score themes that earned Elfman a Grammy was the theme for Burton’s Batman in 1989. Elfman has been nominated four times for an Academy Award and has yet to win one. Because of his previous time spent in a rock band, Elfman has suffered hearing loss, which reminds me a little of Beethoven (that is, it’s interesting that great people in music needlessly work in the industry in spite of having poor hearing! crazy!). My favorite scores of his are for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series.

1. Alan Silvestri

The biggest reason Alan Silvestri is in my number one slot is that he composed my favorite score tracks I have heard. It seems that some of the biggest directors and film composers have tag-teamed in their collaborations to make films. Robert Zemeckis is the director who has acted as Silvestri’s main collaborater, Silvestri having scored for twelve of Zemeckis’s films. Silvestri has won two Grammys, one for the song “Believe” in The Polar Express, and one for the theme song to Cast Away in the Best Instrumental Composition category. Silvestri’s been nominated only twice for an Academy Award, once for Best Score for Forrest Gump and once for Best Original Song in The Polar Express. I think it’s a wonder that he can so strongly compose and write for two incredibly different segments of music, be it instrumental scores or writing an original song. You can look forward to hearing the score for the upcoming Avengers film coming out in May of this year. I can narrow down my favorites of Silvestri’s film scores to the Back to the Future series, Cast Away theme song, Forrest Gump, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

OK, who’s your favorite film composer(s)? What do you think of my choices? And most importantly, what tracks/albums/composer recommendations do you have for me? 🙂

Tim Burton’s Upcoming Projects

It has long been known that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have collaborated on many films, from Burton’s latest take on Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to some of his 90s films such as Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. Regardless of his take on whatever film, viewers can safely assume that it will be dark, edgy, weird and perhaps the combination of all those adjectives–unique.

This year, Burton has his name on three film projects going out the door: Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and a remake of the 1984 Frankenweenie.

Two years before its inception, the original Dark Shadows TV series creator Dan Curtis had a dream on a train and told it to the ABC network. Soon after, Curtis received the green light to begin the proejct, and from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows, pegged a gothic soap opera, aired on television.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, a synopsis of Burton’s film adaption of Dark Shadows:

In 1752, the Collins family sails from Liverpool, England to North America. The son, Barnabas, grows up to be a wealthy playboy in Collinsport, Maine and is the master of Collinwood Manor. He breaks the heart of a witch, Angelique Bouchard, who turns him into a vampire and buries him alive. In 1972, Barnabas is freed and returns to find his manor in ruin. It is occupied by dysfunctional descendants and other residents, all of whom have secrets.

Burton will serve as director and producer on the project, and it’s no surprise that Depp will be leading this cast, especially given the fact that as a child, he actually wanted to be Barnabas Collins. Aside Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, and Helena Bonham Carter will star. Danny Elfman, no stranger to working with Burton (Edward Scissorhands to name only one of the many), will be composing the soundtrack.

Although pictures have been leaked from the film since September of last year, Rotten Tomatoes recently posted three photos of the film on their site. Dark Shadows will be released in theaters on May 11, 2012.

Only a little over a month later, Burton’s second project, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, will be hitting theaters. Burton will be acting as producer along the film’s director, Timur Bekmambetov.

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the book the film is based off, adapted his novel for the screen as well. IMDB summarizes the film as follows:

President Lincoln’s mother is killed by a supernatural creature, which fuels his passion to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers.

I’m very excited to see this film, although I’d like to take a crack at the book first. Grahame-Smith also put an interesting spin on the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice by inserting a few zombies and zombified-language of sorts, re-naming the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It is no wonder that Burton had a hand in bringing Abraham Lincoln to the film format.

In 1984, Walt Disney released Burton’s short film stop-motion animation film, Frankenweenie. Burton now is recapturing it, bringing it back to the big screen for a second time. The black and white film will be shot in 3D, which may serve the format well, given that it is stop-motion.

Frankenweenie will be the second stop-motion animation film under the direction of Tim Burton, Corpse Bride being his first. According to WikipediaFrankenweenie will pay ” homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein based on Mary Shelley’s book of the same name. In the film, a boy named Victor loses his dog and uses the power of science to bring it back to life. Once the others learn of his secret, they set out to create their own monsters, each based on their respective pets and personalities.”

Burton has written, directed, and produced Frankenweenie.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set to be released on June 22, 2012. Frankenweenie will hit theaters October 5, 2012.